Artist Profile: Leyla Gencer, The Turkish Diva

By David Salazar

Leyla Gencer is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, singer to come out of Turkey.

Born on Oct. 10, 1928, the soprano grew up in a rather stable family, though she would lose her father a young age. While she did attend the Istanbul Conservatory, she dropped out and started to study privately. She made her operatic debut as Santuzza in “Cavalleria Rusticana,” which launched her to nationwide fame.

In 1953, she made her Italian debut, instantly becoming a hit and earning opportunities to sing at all the major companies around the world. Her Royal Opera debut came in 1962, following by her first appearances in San Francisco in 1956. She never made it to the Met, despite performing extensively around the United States.

In sum, she managed to perform over 70 roles in her repertoire.

At the end of her career, she became a teacher, appointed by Riccardo Muti to run La Scala’s School for Young Artists.

She died in 2008 at age 79.

Signature Roles

Gencer was renowned for her work in the bel canto repertory, particularly the operas “Anna Bolena,” “Belisario,” “Poliuto,” “Lucrezia Borgia,” and “Maria Stuarda,” though her finest interpretation is perhaps that of Elisabetta in “Roberto Devereux.” She is often cited as the finest interpreter of the “Tudor Trilogy.”

She also performed many early Verdi works, including “Atilla” and “Macbeth,” which are often seen as her best work in the Italian master’s oeuvre.

Read More on Gencer

Rare Verdi Operas She Performed

Watch and Listen

Here is Gencer in one of her iconic portrayals, that of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena.”

And here’s what she could do with Verdi.


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